Still from SAMSARA. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Shot on 70mm film over the span of five years throughout 25 countries, Samsara—which opens August 24 in New York and Seattle—is a transfixing journey pegged to a theme of birth, death and rebirth. The conceit is familiar, but the parade of breathtaking images, made all the more powerful by the film’s complete lack of narration, is an immersive, sensory treat.
Samsara, which means “the ever turning wheel of life” in Sanskrit, is presented as a “guided meditation,” according to director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson. (The two are also behind 1992’s Baraka, a similar globe-spanning spectacle.) Original music ushers the scenes along, but the visual experience is as rich as they come. “You don’t want to leave stones unturned,” says Fricke, who traveled with Magidson and their crew to more than 100 locations. “You don’t want to have regrets.”
That diligence paid off. Sweeping vistas of Bagan, Myanmar, and other natural wonders contrast with buzzing, overdeveloped urban landscapes and factories churning out everything from poultry products to sex dolls. The hallowed halls of a cathedral bleed into the equally reverential spaces of undulating rock formations. Children are baptized at Divino Salvador Church in São Paulo, Brazil; teeming crowds of worshippers at Mecca swirl and churn like flocks of birds.
Samsara is a thought-provoking trip and a lot to take in (broader messages on the state of our society and the world as a whole aren’t lost amid the images). But, ultimately, it will make you want to see it all first-hand—experiences that the filmmakers couldn’t forget if they tried. “We’ve learned a lot doing this,” says Fricke. “It’s made us fearless.” Opens August 24 in New York and Seattle; barakasamsara.com.